2723 N 50th St. Lincoln, NE 68504 • (402) 466-1906
First United Methodist Church was founded in 1888 by men and women who were devoted to Christ’s teachings and dedicated to the education that Nebraska Wesleyan University (NWU) would provide the families of University Place.
The Church was founded by men and women who were devoted to Christ's teachings and dedicated to the education that Nebraska Wesleyan University would provide the families of University Place. During these early years, the church and the school were supported by the same interests, and consequently their needs and futures were interdependent. The church's dedication to education gave precedence to financing of school structures. The fledgling church used school facilities for 21 years until it was financially "expedient" to complete a worthy edifice.
From the Dedication Publication:
On the eighteenth of November, eighteen hundred and eighty-eight, nine men and nine women climbed up an improvised stairway to an unfinished room in the Main Building of Nebraska Wesleyan University and then and there,
With song and prayer, organized the First Methodist Episcopal Church of University Place, Nebraska.
Even thought the Official Board noted at a meeting in 1900 that it was time to "arise and build," it was not until February 7, 1903 that the basement church was ready for occupancy. The flat, tin roof of the "hole-in-the-ground" church did not prove durable, and in two short years the Official Board passed the following resolution: "Resolved, that it is the sense of this board that we should at a very early date complete this church."
Still, until the early 1940's, one symbol of the Pentecostal beginnings remained-- the "Amen Corner."
The participants were usually retired ministers, who at one time represented 10 percent of the congregation.
This group would sit down front in either corner of the sanctuary. Those resonant "Amens" were like a clap of unexpected thunder that startled the congregation and inspired the minister. Many still remember with nostalgia those moments of startled awareness.
Life in the beautiful new church was busy and full, and as it was the hub of community activities, membership continued to grow.
The Sunday morning service was broadcast by radio station WCAJ, owned by Nebraska Wesleyan University. In the early years, a direct private wire linked the pulpit and the broadcast studio, and listeners around the state received the sermons. After Nebraska Wesleyan disbanded its station, the church did not broadcast sermons until the early 1950's, when Dr. Carl Davidson was minister. After several years, this arrangement was discontinued and never resumed.
During this second 25 years, few things happened in University Place that were not related to the church. The community within and without the church was close-knit.
This quarter century also survived the stock market crash, the great depression and severe drought. Still, the church building rang with music and laughter as members shared their talents and resources to bring light and joy into their community of faith. This sharing assure that the children who grew up in this era were not deprived, but rather were enriched by witness of Christian comradeship and love in action.
The oppressive heat of the drought years (before air conditioning) has special memories for those who sat in the unpadded pews, only to find themselves slightly attached when they stood up to sing: their damp clothing clung to the varnished wood! Hundreds of hand fans distributed throughout the church provided the only relief. These cardboard fans were the gift of Lincoln and University Place mortuaries, and they were much appreciated by the congregation.
As the church's history unfolds, it reflects the admiration of the congregation for women's work in the church. Remembered with awe are their contributions of time, energy and money in support of the church and missions. Today, the women of the church still fit the description of their organization that appeared int he Dedication Herald:
They are active workers in the various missionary and philanthropic societies of the church, doing their full share in every good cause, yet find time to substantially aid the local church in all its enterprises.
The official date of the founding of the Society is not recorded, but it is evident that it already was flourishing before 1891.
Growth was of concern during the 1940's. The depression and drought had brought changes in the community economic life and the residential character. These changes had an impact on the church as well. Dr. Lloyd H. Rising notes concerns of these changes in his article in "Our Church," a publication of September, 1941:
The spirit within the church is remarkably friendly in spite of certain obstacles. The church ministers to a well-defined community, but one in which everyday associations are not particularly strong. Many families earn their support in downtown Lincoln or in the other suburbs. The membership includes teachers and students from all three college campuses. There is need in the church for a Unit Plan, whereby the members may become better acquainted and the church keep more closely in touch with constituents.
Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and the United States was plunged into World War II. Patriotism ran high as war prosperity ended the depression and unified the country with a common purpose. On August 6, 1945, this purpose was shaken, and some 43 years later, the church and the world are still dealing with the effects of the atom bom dropped on Hiroshima, the still real threat of nuclear war and the price of lasting peace.
During these war years, the church grew. As the 1950's dawned, it brought with it the greatest growth in the history of the church. On one Sunday in 1952, 101 members were welcomed into membership. When the church membership surpassed 2,500, the educational facilities were found to be inadequate and two Sunday morning church school sessions were provided to serve the participants.
Indeed, it seemed a time to move forward. The heating system, the organ, the kitchen, the dining area, and the office space all needed attention or replacement. Coupled with the inadequacies of the educational units, these needs spurred the congregation to action.
It was a big decision, and not everyone was convinced a building of such magnitude could be financed. Heated words were exchanged, but once the plan was adopted, differences were put aside.
Dr. Carl M. Davidson led First Church with vision and courage during this time of "moving forward." The first building campaign, "Forward Through Faith," provided the means to erect the educational wing and install the new heating system.
The second campaign, "Victory Through Faith," made possible the remodeling of West Vestry, a new chapel, remodeling of the basement for a new kitchen and a flexible Fellowship Hall, and a new organ in a beautifully appointed sanctuary. These two campaigns represented building costs of approximately $400,000.
The third campaign, "Anniversary Drive," was initiated with the goal of ridding the church of the $150,000 debt in time for a mortgage burning during the 75th anniversary observance in November, 1963. These three events spawned a resurgence of vitality, a strengthening of ties within the membership and a renewal of dedication to the cause for which the church stands.